NEARLY half of the teams in this season’s Championship have been playing Premier League football within the last five years.
Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Norwich City, Queen’s Park Rangers, Fulham, Cardiff City, Reading, Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City have all dined at English football’s top table since 2011.
Add much-fancied Derby County, Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday into the mix and it is clear that this season’s promotion race will be tough as ever.
But that is of no concern to new Whites head coach Garry Monk who says his only concern is on the Whites and producing for Leeds: “a higher level of football than before”.
Monk’s rein as head coach will begin in a competitive sense tomorrow lunch-time when his Whites lock horns with QPR for a 12 noon kick-off at Loftus Road.
The United head coach believes Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Hoops will be among this year’s promotion contenders – yet 10 teams are rated more likely to win promotion by the bookmakers.
Monk could probably spend a good few hours speaking about the merits of ante-post favourites Newcastle – managed by former Champions League winner Rafa Benitez – or a Villa side who have just shelled out £13m for former Whites star Ross McCormack.
But United’s new boss would rather spend time analysing another team – Leeds – with the 37-year-old refusing to worry about the level of this year’s opposition and instead fully focused on his own job in hand.
“The most important part is to focus on yourself,” said Monk on the eve of tomorrow’s season opener.
“I think if you start worrying about other teams too much and focusing on other teams then you neglect yourself and my key role right now and what I have been working on all the way through pre-season is about ourselves – improving ourselves, giving us an identity and understanding of how to work and produce winning football and a higher level of football than before at this club.
Of course we prepare for each team and respect them, doing our homework on them but the ultimate is the focus on ourselves.”
Tomorrow’s season opener will also present United’s followers the first opportunity to focus on Monk’s new-look side who can be backed at 40-1 to win the Championship, at 12-1 to win promotion and at 5-1 to reach the play-offs.
“Every team will want to get off to a good start and we are no different,” said Monk. “We want to try and win that first game or for sure have a positive performance and result but we will just take each game as it comes. I am not going to say ‘we have to win this amount out of this many games’ – there’s no point. Let’s just focus all of our energy and our 100 per cent focus on one game because that’s all there is in front of us right now.
“There will be other battles after that but let’s not worry about them right now.”
The Hoops are rated near even money favourites tomorrow and Monk admits his side have been handed a tough opening day assignment – but he insists things will be different in a few weeks.
Monk reasoned: “QPR are one of those teams that have been in the Premier League in recent seasons so they have still got a nucleus of squad that had that experience of being in the Premier League and of promotion.
“They will be strong candidates this year to be up there, in and around those promotion spots so it will be a very tough opener for us.
“But I don’t think there’s any easy games in this league. I think every single game is so competitive and that’s the reason why the league is what we all call probably the hardest league in the world.
“I think the key for us this season will be having pur identity and our way of playing and trying to put that into every single game.
“If we do that at our best and have 100 per cent commitment towards that then we can be successful here.
“But ultimately whatever the outcome is of any game I think the fans will enjoy it, I think the players will enjoy it and you will see a progression.”
Assessing United’s chances of reaching the top six, Monk replied: “It’s a work in progress and I am not going to focus on the end product which is where we finish at the end of the season.
“I’m going to focus on this next game and we will see as we go along what we are capable of or where we can get to. Right now, we are just focusing on this game against QPR and then we will see where we lie towards the middle the season past the Christmas period and into January and February.
“That’s when you know where you can be in the league but right now it’s nothing to do with anything in terms of top six or promotion.
“It’s all about the next game.”